Saturday, January 02, 2010

When life on the wine trail in Italy just ain’t spicy “enough”

From the "Some like it Hot" department

Happy New Year, y’all. This looks like the last weekend I’m going to have for a while, what with wine judging’s and weddings and wine seminars slated for the upcoming weeks, followed by all kinds of travel.

So this weekend it’s now or never to “put up” our jalapeños. Jalapeños have become a harvest tradition in the last few years; we planted them along with the other indigenous articles on the garden, the Hoja Santa and the Epazote. These are all things foreign to the Italian sensibility, but indispensable to the Auchtochtono Tejano. And after 30 years, I am also one of those.

New pepper sauce finds from Oaxaca. Even with a name like Zaaschila, I bet Dr. Zaia would ban these in Italy

In fact, and most likely owing to my Calabrese and Sicilian roots, I love hot food. I remember my sister Tina and I had contests when we were kids to see how we could eat hotter foods than the other. Years later we transformed that sibling rivalry to the kitchen when we competed to make hot sauces, each one more fiery than the other. I bow to my sister for her ultimate tolerance for things hot, but we in Texas have an ongoing love affair with the hot and spicy foods of México and I am no different.

While it is often hard to find truly authentic Italian food in these parts, the food of México and Tex-Mex are easily found in abundance and in varying degrees of authenticity and regional correctness. I love tamales, especially this time of the year, along with the sopas and tacos found everywhere.

I love that they call this brand "El Guapo" - meaning good looking, troublemaker, boastful and a ladies man, some of which I have been in the various stages of my life.

Today, during a lull at the one of the world’s greatest Italian wine and food stores in America, I walked across the street to a new market, specializing in the foods of MesoAmerica. Along with finding a stash of new hot sauces, for the living collection, I gathered up the fixins for a seasons worth of jalapeños to “put up”. At 3 pounds for a dollar, I splurged and bought 12 pounds of the big juicy peppers, several heads of garlic, some bay leaf and black pepper. The only thing missing was the vinegar. But back across the street I knew I could find any number of wonderful vinegars to complete the canning project. A quick trip to the local (large) grocer for some glass jars, and tomorrow we will be in "Hot Pepper Heaven."

One of my favorite "value" vinegars from Carbonara Scrivia in the Colli Tortonese

Speaking of hot peppers, I often go back to the Marche-Abruzzo border to visit my friends, the Illuminati's. One of our pilgrimages is to go into Ascoli Piceno and beyond for the mushrooms. Acquasanta Terme is a great little town, worth visiting, especially if you ever travel the Via Salaria back towards Rome or on your way towards Umbria from the Marche or Abruzzo. In Acquasanta Terme there are a couple of notable restaurants I have enjoyed over the years, La Casaccia and Tre Lanterne. For the quality and the value of what we eat in these places, one could only wish to find something like that in Dallas or Austin, or New York. Indescribably delicious, wholesome and authentic.

In Acquasanta Terme there is also a little outlet store, RITI, a family owned business that supplies dried porcini mushrooms and a hot sauce that rivals my dear Calabrese ones. I am always asking folks who go to Illuminati to bring me back several bottles, luring them with the promise of a great meal at one of the recommended places. It always works and is a win-win for everyone. And I gets me my Italian hot sauce fix for the pantry.

I don’t know what it is about hot foods – but they make me happy – and during the winter season when it gets dark early I seem to rely on the curative and restorative properties of peppers to bring me back to an equilibrium where I feel light and hope and am ready to run another mile or two. Like I said, win-win.

And that is my 2 cents worth for the day – We’re on to a new pizzeria which is BYOB and hopefully we can stay away from the sinful tiramisu and bruschetta (here spelled correctly and pronounced “broos'ketta”).

Ciao for niao- never half empty - always half full, with more on the way!


Anonymous said...

Brother, You have my hot pepper juices flowing. I have found a hot pepper sauce called AFTER DEATH! It is about third down in degree of heat in this series of hot sauces . Must try. Happy Heating. Love, Tina

Marco Stuzzichino said...

The Calabrese hot pepper "Bomba" condimenti imported by Colluccio in Brooklyn and the Tutto Calabria brand are the two hottest that I have ever had. The hottest though is the Puree di Piment from Guadeloupe in the French Antilles. Impossible to find state side.

Do Bianchi said...

I love this post and I am so geeked to get to try the fruits of yall's labor!

it's so awesome how you've incorporated an Italian tradition into local produce and ingredients etc. I love the expression "putting up" the peppers...

good stuff, Ace!

Anonymous said...

I entered the Sig-O's kitchen tonight, only to be driven back by the pungent, breath-sucking perfume of the cut jalapenos. We put up 11 quarts. And though I barely touched the peppers, the heat still fires through my fingertips. Jalapenos, garlic, peppercorns, cloves and bay leaves in a 1:1 solution of boiling vinegar and water = divine pickled jalapenos. Be still, my heart.

Craig said...

Magnificent piece. I loves me some hot sauce too! Your travels and food adventures sound so wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

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